The New England Patriots seemed to be past the blockage that had plagued their season. Prior to Week 9, the Patriots couldn’t win close games. Then in Weeks 9 and 10, New England briefly established their offensive identity while improving the defense just enough to win games.
And then in Week 11, it all came undone. The lowly Houston Texans beat the Patriots, 27-20, at NRG Stadium on Sunday. Though the Patriots’ briefly flirted with fighting for playoff contention, they are essentially out of the mix in the AFC.
New England had a shot to tie the game, with Newton leading a drive into the Texans’ half of the field with a minute left to play. But he faced pressure on a fourth down and couldn’t get a throw off. The turnover on downs essentially ended the game. Here are the winners and losers from the matchup.
WINNER: WR Damiere Byrd
He couldn’t have played this deep ball (in the video below) from Newton much better. Byrd was streaking downfield and shielded the defensive back from making a play. For the first time all season, Byrd played the field-stretching role that New England seemingly signed him to play. It was his first touchdown of the season — and the first touchdown from a Patriots receiver. Byrd finished with six catches for 132 yards and the touchdown. He added 11 yards on one carry. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1330603215738454017 It probably helped Byrd that Jakobi Meyers had a few good games, which meant that Byrd didn’t get quite so much defensive attention. But this was also simply a matter of Byrd doing a good job getting open and making really good catches. This was the best football he’s played in 2020 — and maybe in his entire career. Can Byrd take this game and bring about more consistency?
LOSER: S Devin McCourty
Not only was McCourty in coverage for Randall Cobb’s touchdown, but McCourty ran to meet Watson at the end zone line. The quarterback powered through McCourty for a touchdown. Houston built its first-half lead, in part, due to shortcomings from McCourty in the red zone. He was mostly to blame on Houston’s first two touchdowns.
WINNER QB Cam Newton
Newton finished the day completing 26 of 40 for 365 yards and one touchdown. It was yet another efficient outing where Newton has taken care of the football. But it’s fair to wonder whether he could be even better if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would get more aggressive with the play-calling. It’s really hard to say why McDaniels seems to be holding back Newton. We have seen Newton struggle when he’s “pressing it,” as Newton has said earlier this season. So perhaps McDaniels is hoping to methodically get back in to games without putting Newton in situations where he’ll turn over the ball. But it’s for New England to generate consistent passing yardage when they’re overusing their screen game.
LOSER: S Kyle Dugger
He struggled so enormously against tight end Jordan Akins in the first half that the Patriots resorted to trying cornerback Joejuan Williams in the matchup. Dugger was decent at his hybrid linebacker and safety position with six. But those deficiencies in coverage were brutal. With just about every defensive back covering Akins, he finished with five catches and 83 yards.
WINNER: P Jake Bailey
His efforts on specials have gone largely overlooked this season. This wasn’t his best game of the year, but he still boomed a 59-yarder while finishing with three punts for 151 yards.
LOSER: WR N’Keal Harry
He committed two penalties in the game before he even recorded a catch — and it was a play designed to get Harry involved. And admittedly, that play actually seemingly served its purpose, with Newton and Harry starting to work better together. Newton had five catches for 41 yards in the second half. The Patriots needed more of that in the first half.
LOSER: The Patriots secondary
I’ve already noted McCourty and Dugger’s individual issues. But Deshaun Watson completed 76% of his passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns with one more rushing touchdown. And at halftime, he had 241 passing yards and two touchdowns (with 30 yards and a touchdown to boot). Watson put together a special performance, with absolutely pinpoint passing. But New England’s secondary didn’t do enough to challenge him. And when you consider Watson’s escapability in the pocket, perhaps it’s unfair to peg the performance wholly on the defensive backs. So…
LOSER: OLB Chase Winovich
He looked like a player who’d never seen Watson in person. Winovich was generating pressure on the quarterback, but Winovich ended up out of position as he tried to finish off the play with a sack. As a result, Watson extended the play and found receivers downfield.